Cleveland State University isn’t known for a whole lot in the sporting world. No offense to the Vikings, who compete in the Horizon League as a mediocre team at best, you just have to pursue other ventures is all. Perhaps their “15 minutes of fame” arose in 2008 when their biggest regular season victory came in a 72-69 upset of No. 11 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Vikings would make the 2009 NCAA tournament as a 13-seed and rout fourth-seeded Wake Forest before bowing out in the second round.
Believe it or not, we would be talking about Cleveland State a lot more right now if it weren’t for the Nike Peach Jam. Mid-major coaches like Gary Waters at CSU always hope their recruits play their worst at high profile tournaments. It keeps the big dogs from taking notice.
A few summers ago, no one had seen a skinny 6-9 power forward from Chicago. He hadn’t played on a big stage yet, and for all he knew would never get much attention. Before he became a household name and a future NBA draft pick, he was leaning Cleveland State. He had given Waters and two of his assistants a shaky verbal commitment, but a commitment nonetheless.
His name was Anthony Davis.
Then Davis went out here in North Augusta, at the most well-attended event of the summer, was a shot-blocking machine and also displayed a versatile offensive game in front of guys like Kentucky’s John Calipari, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
“We knew we had lost him,” Waters said.
Waters is hardly alone. It happens countless times at well-attended events like this, a kid plays well and is lost to the level above. Mid-major coaches pray for minor injuries to their recruits, or that they become buried on the bench so that they had a legitimate chance to keep them. Some who are confident enough in the recruit even root for missed shots and poor performances.
“All the high-majors are here,” Green Bay coach Brian Wardle said. “If your guy comes here and perform well, you can lose a guy — or at best case scenario, it stretches the recruiting out and makes it a 12-round fight. It happens to everyone at our level.”
Waters knew there was no way he was winning that bout once guys like Calipari, Matta and Boeheim started to pursue Davis.
“We honestly felt we had him coming into the Peach Jam,” he said. “Everything happened so quickly.”
I believe I speak for many of you in this. Thank you, North Augusta, for your peachy tournament.